Indianliberals.in is a digital archive of the lives and works of Indian liberal thinkers. Libertarian concepts, particularly those concerning economic liberty, are widely held in India to be based on borrowed Western expertise. The Indian Liberals project contributes significantly to the greater liberal debate by filling a critical void. India has always had a rich history of liberal thinkers whose lives and works have greatly influenced the Indian school of liberal thought.
The Indian Liberals project, managed by the Centre for Civil Society and supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), strives to take this little-known legacy of Indian liberal thought to a larger audience. We strengthen our reach on the legacy of Indian liberals and their works to old and new audiences through strategic social media dissemination. In addition to archiving and bringing to the forefront little known Indian liberals, the website hosts interviews of contemporary liberals, periodicals, regional Indian literature and opinions. As part of this project, we also host events and contests to popularise the Indian liberal legacy.
Progress so far
This year, indianliberals.in witnessed the adoption of a new approach to disseminating the legacy of Indian liberal thought. Having developed a niche and loyal audience base in 2021. In 2022, the website has augmented its offerings to include content via audio-visual formats, making the archive more user-friendly and accessible.
indianliberals.in has been emphasising demonstrating not just the history, but also the ongoing relevance of Indian liberal ideology from a narrative standpoint. This year the website brought out a series of featured themes. Based on each month’s theme, all content is targeted to guarantee coherence and careful dissemination. By creating speciality themes, indianliberals.in could gain a broader reader interest and increase our visibility.
Let’s look at some of the interesting monthly themes. The initial month of 2022 focused on “Reviving the Legacy of Indian Liberal Thought”. This theme focused on highlighting the continued relevance of Indian liberal thought today.
Ahead of the Parliamentary budget session in February 2022, we published both written and audio-visual content on The Union Budget 1992-93 by a renowned and respected Indian liberal thinker Nani Palkhivala. The essay discusses India’s first liberal budget, post 1991 liberalisation reforms.
Women's History Month, which falls in March, was dedicated to bolstering the voices of Indian liberal women. This was done in conjunction with FNF's global theme #FemaleForward, which aims to highlight and honour the contributions of women liberals in India. On the lives, works, and legacies of Indian liberal women, a series of written and audio-visual content was created and published. These included thinkers and reformists like Tarabai Shinde, Fatima Sheikh, Rukhmabai, Ramabai Ranade, Mithan Tata Lam, and others. In addition to prominent feminist names, the website also highlighted stories of lost liberal feminists like Azizun Nisa — a courtesan who strategised and fought during the first war of Independence. Revival of stories like that of Azizun Nisa are crucial to contemporary liberal discourses in India. The historic roots of sex work in nineteenth-century India have been traced in this case to normalise sex work as a source of income in contemporary India. Legacies of these Indian liberal women are also crucial to understanding their fight for individual liberty. The legacy of Dr Janaki Ammal is a remarkable example in this regard. Choosing one’s career over marriage, i.e. choosing oneself over societal norms, remains unimaginable for a large section of Indian women even today. Dr Ammal, India’s first woman botanist, chose her ambitious academic pursuits over societal norms despite having to face gender- and caste-based discrimination in the early 1900s.
Indianliberals.in at present is revisiting the contributions of liberal economists and thinkers, who argued for greater economic freedom at a time when India was a near socialist economy. These included names like A.D. Shroff, Minoo Masani, B.R. Shenoy and many others. Despite the 1991 reforms, India’s socialist tendencies with reference to economic development are yet to completely wither away. Ideas of economic liberty, consumer sovereignty, the revolutionary abilities of free markets remain difficult to understand, and often excluded from mainstream development discourses. Through the Indian Liberals project, we are attempting to make these complex ideas simple to understand and appreciate.
In addition to dedicated simplified audio-visual content for social media, this year, we launched the Indian Liberals Explainer Series. As the name suggests, often in a conversational fashion, the series breaks down complex text into easy-to-consume videos that explain and contextualise ideas of economic and personal liberties. So far, four episodes of the Indian Liberal Explainer Series have been produced and released on (i) the relationship between economic growth and social justice (ii) Indian feminist thought (iii) feminist characters of Indian liberal thinker Rabindranath Tagore and (iv) the unfair assumptions of Marxist socialism.
The year ahead looks incredibly promising for the project. There are two policy talks scheduled for the months of July and October on Institutional Accountability and Local Governance respectively. These policy talks will be held at a higher education institute, either virtually or in person.
After the success of last year’s Indian Liberals Annual Lecture, we are excited to close this year with yet another success at the Indian Liberals Annual Lecture. With the pandemic largely under control, one is expecting to host an in-person lecture in New Delhi. Last year’s lecture, focused on ideas of personal liberty with Indian journalist and contemporary liberal thinker, Ms Sagarika Ghose. This year’s plan is to focus on ideas of economic liberty. The attendee list for the Annual Lecture, much like last year, would include researchers, students, academics, et al.